(Image Credit Cemetery Dance Publications)
(This article was originally published October, 2017)
Written in 1975, Stephen King’s second novel ‘Salem’s Lot answers the age old question, “What would happen if the story of Dracula occurred in a small town in Maine?” Both Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot were heavily influenced by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a favorite of King’s when teaching high school, in tone, style, and subject matter in the latter case (by the way, if you haven’t read the original Dracula, do it, it’s really good). ‘Salem’s Lot centers around Ben Mears, a writer returning to the eponymous town where he spent a portion of his childhood in order to complete his next book. He reminisces about the horror of the Marsten House, meets and falls in love with Susan Norton, and eventually encounters true evil, as vampires decimate the town’s population.
Yet, the most interesting scene in ‘Salem’s Lot doesn’t involve vampires at all, but centers on King deep in self reflection. Many of his works are semi-autobiographical; for example The Body (which was later adapted into the coming of age classic Stand by Me) serves as King reflecting nostalgically on childhood. ‘Salem’s Lot represents another iteration of this trend, with three characters representing the author’s reckoning with his own psyche.
Ben Mears, the writer, arrives at the town bar and meets up with Ed “Weasel” Craig, a boarder renting a room in the same building as Mears who is friendly enough but also a raging alcoholic. “Weasel,” well into a drunken stupor, introduces Ben to schoolteacher Matt Burke before excusing himself to the restroom. Realizing that “Weasel” has been gone for some time, Ben and Matt discover him passed out, “propped against the wall between two urinals, and a fellow in an army uniform was pissing approximately two inches from his right ear” (‘Salem’s Lot, 194).
In Dickensian fashion, this scene depicts King’s past, present, and future. Matt, a schoolteacher, King’s profession before becoming a writer, and Ben, the famous writer and stand-in for the author in this book, look down on the passed out “Weasel” Craig, the possible “future King.” King’s struggle with drug addiction and alcoholism throughout the 1970s and 1980s is explored in greater allegorical detail in The Shining, but this scene serves as a brief “moment of clarity” for King, recognizing his fate if he continued on the path of addiction. As Ben, the “present King” looks down on “Weasel,”
“His mouth was open and Ben thought how terribly old he looked, old and ravaged by cold, impersonal forces with no gentle touch in them. The reality of his own dissolution, advancing day by day, came home to him, not for the first time, but with shocking unexpectedness. The pity that welled up in his throat like clear, black waters was as much for himself as it was for Weasel.